Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Art Seen — Better together

The truth is we need each other. I’ve lived on the Kenai Peninsula for 20 years now, and as far as I can tell, it has always attracted and bred artists. It is quite possible that the amazing beauty that surrounds us on every side is an inspiring element, whether the artist chooses to represent those images or something else.

I’m certain many artists throughout history have managed to produce interesting bodies of work without associating with a group designed to encourage and support them. But we need them, nevertheless, and they need us, as well. Our participation in artist co-ops may not be as intensive as being involved in the European “salons” at the turn of the last century, but they can certainly invigorate us and keep us working. The Kenai Potters’ Guild and the Kenai River Council on the Arts, each located at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, have gone through many changes and revolutions over the years, but still remain viable sources for artists.

The Arts and Humanities Council, developed to be an overarching source of support for the arts of any kind, functioned out of the KFAC for years and put on the Jail House Rock fundraiser (the building used to house the town jail). Eventually, fluctuating board membership caused the group to join with the Peninsula Art Guild, but then was revived as the Kenai River Council on the Arts when there was a big push in the art community for a new, world-class center of the arts in the central peninsula area. Although that dream has not yet been realized, the board has once again rejoined PAG and has been putting on experimental shows, as well as group experiments, exhibits and installations.

Last month, Joyce Cox displayed “Facets of Three-Dimensional Art.” It is an eclectic mix of materials and indicates an artist with a lively curiosity and a sure love for the object. She has a triptych that is a tribute to Louise Nevelson, an artist who may well be one of those aforementioned artists who worked in relative isolation and was able to put out quite an interesting body of work. Most of what she produced, although original, was quite similar throughout her career.

She built large, mostly bas relief sculptures (meant to be viewed against the wall, but have three-dimensional elements. It sometimes means “slightly raised,” and is pronounced bah-relief) amounting to various sizes of boxes to hold the myriad interestingly shaped wooden objects. If the pieces were not already of a similar color, she painted the entire sculpture one color, to help emphasize the form and the relationship between the objects. Her work is striking and poetic, and certainly has endured, both physically and in the public eye. I would love to see what she might have created had she been part of a supportive group of artists, how her work may have inspired others, and how their input may have encouraged her, as well.

We’ll never know, of course, but in an area that has as many artists per capita as a well-known artist community like Homer, I am thankful we have groups like the KPG, the PAG and the KRCA, and I look forward to their continued growth. If you are also feeling thankful for their existence, you might want to join the upcoming PAG meeting at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, at 10 a.m. Feb. 28. You don’t even need to be an artist to get involved, just have an interest in supporting the arts.

Marcia Beauchamp is a great example of someone who gave her time, intelligence and excellent managerial skills to the PAG board, and was not herself a practicing artist. She donated over a decade of service in memory of her mother, who had been an artist. When she moved to the treasurer position, Roy Shapley, a photographer and busy teacher, stepped up to the role as president. Recently, Roy passed away at about the same time as Marcia left the peninsula for Napa Valley, Calif. Although we miss them both immensely, they have left an organization in full swing and progressive motion. Roy was only 52 when he died, shocking a huge community of friends and co-workers. He and Marcia are models for all of us by their unselfish service and dedication to what they loved and believed in.

So if you believe in the arts and want to do what you can to support artists in our area, consider joining the effort. Because we really can’t go it alone.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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